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One Day after 50th Anniversary of March on Washington, Record Number of Fast Food Workers Strike Nationwide

Today's strike is largest in history of fast food industry.
 
 
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Fast food workers across the country are staging their largest strike to date on Thursday as the year-long campaign to raise wages in the service sector escalates. Employees from the McDonalds Corporation, Wendy's Restaurants LLC, Burger King Worldwide Inc and others have pledged to walk out in more than 50 cities across the country, organizers say. These workers are expected to be joined by retail employees from department stores such as Macy's, Sears and Dollar Tree.

The strike follows a similar protest last November, when over 200 workers walked out of their fast food jobs in New York City. That spring, and again in the summer, groups in Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and more followed in their footsteps. The works currently on strike are demanding the ability to form unions and bargain for higher wages without facing intimidation or dismissal. The cornerstone of the campaign has been a raise in wages to $15 an hour, up from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

According to the National Employment Law Project, nationally the median wage for fast food workers is $8.94 per hour. In additional, nearly all private-sector fast-food jobs are not unionized, meaning that protesting workers are frequently retaliated against by the companies. 

Many of the faces of the fast food protest point to Occupy Wall Street as a major inspiration in the movement's discussions about income inequality, especially in light of the financial collapse, which has made well-paying jobs increasingly scarce.

"If you're paying $7.35 an hour and employed someone for 20 or 25 hours a week, which is the average here, they're bringing him about $10,000 a year. You can't survive on that," Martin Rafanan, a community organizer in St. Louis, Missouri, told the Chicago Tribune. "Unless we can figure out a way to make highly profitable companies pay a fair wage to their workers, we're just going to watch them pull all the blood, sweat, tears and money out of our communities." 

According to a statement released by the National Restaurant Association, 13 million Americans are employed by fast food chains, and only five percent of restaurant employees earn the minimum wage. Those that do are predominantly said to be working part-time, half of which are teenagers. Fast food companies, meanwhile, have maintained that they provide good jobs and ample opportunities for workers looking for vertical mobility — namely, promotions and working up the ladder. Yet, economic data shows that this claim is not accurate, and that McJobs rarely, if ever, provide a living wage. The U.S. fast food industry nets $200 billion a year.

Thursday's strike is, at press time, shaping to be the largest coordinated protest the fast food industry has ever seen, thanks in large part to financial and technical support by the Service Workers International union, grassroots organizing, community groups and support from by local politicians.

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.

 
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